Ardennes

The agreement to ship goods, whether by liner, or by charter is invariably made well before the B/L is signed thus, when it is first produced the B/L cannot be the contract itself. It is, however, evidence that there is a contract of shipment between the shipper and the shipowner. The case of The “Ardennes” (1950) is the classic case to demonstrate this point.  In this case the shipper was anxious that his consignment of Spanish oranges should reach London before a scheduled increase in import duty and received an assurance that the ship would proceed directly to London.  In the event the owners decided to make Antwerp the ship’s first port of discharge so that the oranges did not reach London until after the crucial date.  The owners tried to assert their right under the “liberties” clause in the printed wording of the B/L but Lord Goddard, in confirming the shipper’s right to recover damages for breach of contract, stressed that the contract, albeit a verbal one, came into existence before the B/L was signed.  To emphasise the fact that a B/L was not the contract he also pointed out that a B/L is only signed by one party.  Thus it may be stressed that a B/L is evidence of a contract and indeed is considered the best evidence of a contract. The exception to this rule occurs where the bill of lading is transferred to an endorsee, then the bill of lading is, the contract of carriage as between the consignee/endorsee and the shipowner. An endorsee of a bill of lading is not affected by any agreement between the shippers and the carrier; the terms of carriage will be those clauses contained in the B/L itself.